Chippewa Tribe

Chippewa Indians, Ojibway Indians, Ojibway Tribe (popular adaptation of Ojibway, ‘to roast till puckered up,’ referring, to the puckered seam on their moccasins; from ojib ‘to pucker up,’ ub-way ‘to roast’). One of the largest tribes North of Mexico, whose range was formerly along both shores of Lake Huron and Superior, extending across Minnesota Turtle Mountains, North Dakota. Although strong in numbers and occupying an extensive territory, the Chippewa were never prominent in history, owing to their remoteness from the frontier during the period of the colonial wars.  According tradition they are part of an Algonquian body, including the Ottawa and Potawatomi, which separated into divisions when it reached Mackinaw in its westward movement, having come from so point north or northeast of Mackinaw. Warren 1 asserts that they were settled in a large village at La Pointe, Wis., about the time of the discovery of America, and Verwyst 2 says that about 1612 they suddenly abandoned this locality, many of them going back to the Sault, while others settled at, the west end of Lake Superior, where Father Allouez found there in 1665-67. There is nothing found to sustain the statement of Warren and Verwyst in regard to the early residence of the tribe at La Pointe.

They were first noticed in the Jesuit Relation of 1640 under the name Baouichtigouin (probably Bāwa`tigōwininiwŭg, `people of the Sault’), as residing at the Sault, and it is possible that Nicollet met them in 1634 or 1639. In 1642 they were visited by Raymbaut and Jogues, who found them at the Sault and at war with a people to the west, doubtless the Sioux. A remnant or offshoot of the tribe resided north of Lake Superior after the main body moved south to Sault Ste Marie, or when it had reached the vicinity of the Sault. The Marameg, a tribe closely related to if not an actual division of the Chippewa, who dwelt along the north shore of the lake, were apparently incorporated with the latter while they were at the Sault, or at any rate prior to 1670 (Jesuit Rel., 1670). On the north the Chippewa are so closely connected with the Cree and Maskegon that the three can be distinguished only by those intimately acquainted with their dialects and customs, while on the south the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi have always formed a sort of loose confederacy, frequently designated in the last century the Three Fires. It seems to be well established that some of the Chippewa have resided north of Lake Superior from time immemorial. These and the Marameg claimed the north side of the lake as their country. According to Perrot some of the Chippewa living south of Lake Superior in 1670-99, although relying chiefly on the chase, cultivated some maize, and were then at peace with the neighboring Sioux. It is singular that this author omits to mention wild rice (Zizania aquatica) among their food supplies, since the possession of wild-rice fields was one of the chief causes of their wars with the Dakota, Foxes, and other nations, and according to Jenks 3 10,000 Chippewa in the United States use it at the present time. About this period they first came into possession of firearms, and were pushing their way westward, alternately at peace and at war with the Sioux and in almost constant conflict with the Foxes. The French, in 1692, reestablished a trading post at Shaugawaumikong, now La Pointe, Island, Ashland County, Wis., which became an important Chippewa settlement. In the beginning of the 18th century the Chippewa succeeded in driving the Foxes, already reduced by war with the French, from north Wisconsin, compelling them to take refuge with the Sauk. They then turned against the Sioux, driving them across the Mississippi and south to Minnesota river, and continued their westward march across Minnesota and North Dakota until they, occupied the headwaters of Red river, and established their westernmost band in the Turtle mountains. It was not until after 1736 that they obtained a foothold west of Lake Superior. While the main divisions of the tribe were thus extending their possessions in the west, others overran the peninsula between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, which had long been claimed by the Iroquois through conquest. The Iroquois were forced to withdraw, and the whole region was occupied by the Chippewa bands, most of who are now known as Missisauga, although they still call themselves Ojibwa. The Chippewa took part with the other tribes of the northwest in all the wars against the frontier settlements to the close of the war of 1812. Those living within the United States made a treaty with the Government in 1815, and have since remained peaceful, all residing on reservations or allotted lands within their original territory in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota, with the exception of the small band of Swan Creek and Black River Chippewa, who sold their lands in south Michigan in 1836 and are now with the Munsee in Franklin County bands.

Schoolcraft, who was personally acquainted with the Chippewa and married a woman of the tribe, describes the Chippewa warriors as equaling in physical appearance the best formed of the northwest Indians, with the possible exception of the Foxes. Their long and successful contest with the Sioux and Foxes exhibited their bravery and determination, yet they were uniformly friendly in their relations with the French. The Chippewa area timber people. Although they have long been in friendly relations with the whites, Christianity has had but little effect on them, owing largely to the conservatism of the native medicine-men. It is affirmed by Warren, who is not disposed to accept any statement that tends to disparage the character of his people, that, according to tradition, the division of the tribe residing at La Pointe practiced cannibalism, while Fattier Belcourt affirms that, although the Chippewa of Canada treated the vanquished with most horrible barbarity and at these times ate human flesh, they looked upon cannibalism, except under such conditions, with horror. According to Dr William Jones 4 the Pillagers of Bear id. assert that cannibalism was occasionally practiced ceremonially by the Chippewa of Leech lake, and that since 1902 the eating of human flesh occurred on Rainy river during stress of hunger. It was the custom of the Pillager band to allow a warrior who scalped an enemy to wear on his head two eagle feathers, and the act of capturing a wounded prisoner on the battlefield earned the distinction of wearing five. Like the Ottawa, they were expert in the use, of the canoe, and in their early history depended largely on fish for food. There is abundant evidence that polygamy was common, and indeed it still occurs among the more wandering bands (Jones). Their wigwams were made of birch bark or of grass mats; poles were first planted in the ground in a circle, the tops bent together and tied, and the bark or mats thrown over them, leaving a smoke hole at the top. They imagined that the shade, after the death of the body, followed a wide beaten path, leading toward the west, finally arriving in a country abounding in everything the Indian desires. It is a general belief among the northern Chippewa that the spirit often returns to visit the grave, so long as the body is not reduced to dust. Their creation myth is that common among the northern Algonquians. Like most other tribes they believe that a mysterious power dwells in all objects, animate and inanimate. Such objects are manitus, which are ever wakeful and quick to hear everything in the summer, but in winter, after snow falls, are in a torpid state. The Chippewa regard dreams as revelations, and some object which appears therein is often chosen as a tutelary deity. The Medewiwin, or grand medicine society 5, was formerly a powerful organization of the Chippewa, which controlled the movements of the tribe and was a formidable obstacle to the introduction of Christianity.

When a Chippewa died it was customary to place the body in a grave facing west, often in a sitting posture, or to scoop a shallow cavity in the earth and deposit the body therein on its back or side, covering it with earth so as to form a small mound, over which boards, poles, or birch bark were placed. According to McKenney 6, the Chippewa of Fond du Lac, Wis., practiced scaffold burial, the corpse being enclosed in a box., Mourning for a lost relative continued for a year, unless shortened by the meda or by certain exploits in war.

It is impossible to determine the past or present numbers of the Chippewa, as in former times only a small part of the tribe came in contact with the whites at any period, and they are now so mixed with other tribes in many quarters that no separate returns are given. The principal estimates are as follow: In 1764, about 25,000; 1783 and 1794, about 15,000; 1843, about 30,000; 1851, about 28,000. It is probable that most of these estimates take no account of more remote lands. In 1884 there were in Dakota 914; in Minnesota, 5,885; in Wisconsin, 3,656; in Michigan, 3,500 returned separately, and 6,000 Chippewa and Ottawa, of whom perhaps one-third are Chippewa; in Kansas, 76 Chippewa and Munsee. The entire number in the United States at this time was therefore about 16,000. In British America those of Ontario, including the Nipissing, numbered at the same time about 9,000, while in Manitoba and the Northwest Territories there were 17,129 Chippewa and Cree on reservations under the same agencies. The Chippewa now (1905) probably number 30,000 to 32,000-15,000 in British America and 14,144 in the United States, exclusive of about 3,000 in Michigan.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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  1. Warren, Minn. Hist. Soc. Coll., v, 1885[]
  2. Verwyst, Missionary Labors, 1886[]
  3. Jenks, 19th Rep. B.A.E., 1900[]
  4. information, 1905,[]
  5. see Hoffman, 7th Rep. B. A. E., 1891[]
  6. McKenney, Tour to the Lakes, 1827[]

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